Research is probably one of the most under-rated areas in which a strategic communicator can really shine.
It may seem odd to consider the proposition that as a communicator, you should also be a researcher. Aren’t the researchers those folks in other parts of the building, or outside your organization altogether? Isn’t your job to communicate what those people come up with?
Well, yes, of course it is. But no, it’s not entirely true that your job is wholly about packaging information handed to you, rather than collecting and digesting it yourself. Case in point: when you’re in the initial stages of a comprehensive strategic communications plan, one of the most important things you can do is to build in a block of time devoted to researching the current state of affairs inside and outside of your organization. A high-quality research phase is one of the key things distinguishing a communication plan that has real impact from one that languishes on the shelf and never gets implemented. If you base a communications strategy on research that reaches out into the world of your own organization and beyond its walls, you’ll be rewarded with a strategy whose impact will be equally far-reaching.
The research phase of your planning provides much of the raw input that gets synthesized into a communications strategy. That’s because solid research will:
- Convey insight into the strategic context of your organization and the issues it’s facing—enabling eventual communications recommendations to be aligned with the internal corporate direction as well as external stakeholders and markets;
- Provide documented evidence for communications recommendations, which will be vital to the credibility of your strategy (this is particularly true if you’ll be recommending a shift in direction or a new tactic);
- Contribute new ideas gleaned from scanning the public environment for best practices—an excellent way of finding new ways of framing your message or reaching your audiences; and
- Identify risk areas to be avoided, by spotting potential pitfalls and learning from the experiences of other organizations operating in your sphere.
The Results Map method includes three distinct kinds of research that will help you gather inputs to shape a sound communications strategy. They are the Internal Scan (to make you thoroughly aware of the lay of the land inside your organization); the External Scan (to illuminate the public environment within which your organization is pursuing its goals); and Benchmarking (to systematically compare your organization or initiative against others considered to be sector leaders or best practices).
Those three areas of research will be relevant if you’re working on a major communications strategy. Keep in mind that even if your communications strategy is external in focus, internal audiences are always a priority – there is no more significant audience that can shape external perceptions on your organization or brand. While it’s widely accepted that internal audiences are to be included in external strategies, the reverse is true, too. Even if your focus is on internal communications, it may be wise to scan the external environment for trends or influences that will affect your employees.
Once you’ve done your research, you’ll be prepared to conduct superbly well-informed internal consultations, and eventually to craft the directions on which your communications strategy will be based. You’ll have the confidence – and the credibility – that comes from making evidence-based recommendations.